Published on April 22, 2021

AHMEDABAD: Animesh Patel (name changed), a driver of EMRI 108 ambulance, was seventh in the queue of 30-odd ambulances outside the 1,200-bed Covid hospital at 2 pm on Wednesday.

“We started from residence in Ranip at 10 am and arrived at the hospital by 10.30 am. The patient is administered oxygen from the ambulance’s supply after a doctor checked his oxygen saturation and blood pressure. If all goes well, the patient will be admitted in the next 45 minutes,” he said.

For the driver, this was only the second patient he ferried during his shift that had started at 6 am. The first patient had called up a private hospital beforehand so it only took about a couple of hours. “Ever since Covid-19 has spiked in the past week, most of my time is spent queuing up outside hospitals with the patient on board,” says Patel.

Apart from the Covid-19 hospitals which are overflowing with patients, the EMRI 108 ambulance services are also flooded with callers in crisis. Jashvant Prajapati, COO of EMRI 108, said that at its peak, the call centre for the service is fielding 25,000 calls a day or 17 calls per minute.

“Several of these calls are repeat or follow-up calls. But it’s true that along with the rise in cases, the call volume has increased manifold,” he said.

‘Critical patients get priority’

“We have procured a new line for handling the rise in volume and have also increased the executives to tackle up to120 calls per minute by procuring a call centre of the state education department. We have salvaged our old ambulances and are also rapidly expanding our fleet – we have doubled the number of ambulances in Ahmedabad city from 60 to120,” said Prajapati.

He appealed to people not to make repeat calls, assuring that all the calls are recorded and attended to. “The patients with severe symptoms get priority,” he added.

The response time, according to sources, has gone for a toss.

“Before pandemic, the normal response time was 15 minutes in urban areas and turnaround time for an ambulance would be 60 minutes after completing the call. In a normal shift of 12 hours, the EMT (emergency medical technician) and pilot (ambulance driver) would conduct 10-odd calls,” said an official.

“Now, the per shift calls have got reduced to 3 to 4. Queues outside majority hospitals is the primary cause.’ While the EMRI has already deployed a coordinator outside Civil Hospital, the wait is primarily due to the fact that the majority of the patients are on oxygen who cannot just be dropped.

“They need to be sustained till they get medical attention. It takes time. A normal waiting period at Civil Hospital is two to three hours,” said an EMT on condition of anonymity.

At Civil Hospital, the initial capacity of triage (the area where the patient is brought first and his/her severity is assessed by experts) was 10 patients. Currently, it has been expanded to 35 to reduce the queues.

“We have also started treatment of the severe patients right at the queues,” said Dr JP Modi, medical superintendent of Civil Hospital. “Patients are also provided oxygen cylinders when they wait for their turn.”

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